How do scientists diagnose injuries or illnesses that affect patients’ brains? They use an electroencephalograph (EEG). This device detects electrical activity in the brain using electrodes that attach to a person’s scalp via suction. But getting the small metal discs to stay put can be a problem for anyone with coarse hair.
Arnelle Etienne, a recent engineering graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, wanted to create electrodes that worked for people with hair like hers. “I have very curly, very thick, Afro-textured hair,” she says. Etienne found a simple solution: a flexible electrode, inspired by barrettes, that clips into hair instead of using suction. She also found that braiding coarse or curly hair into cornrows allows her newly designed electrodes to get even closer to the scalp.
When the EEG was invented in the 1920s, Black people weren’t considered in the design process, says Etienne. “That’s why it’s important to include other people’s points of view in science.”